In today’s connected world, genuine privacy is virtually impossible. So many devices and services track what you do, but it’s part of the tradeoff you make for the benefits they provide. That said, most services provide some level of control over what they might be collecting, why it’s being collected and how it will be used. Until about a month ago, I was quite happy with the information Plex collected about me from my account profile and the data they collected about the devices I use with their software. I could opt out of data collection in terms of what media content I have stored and when this is being played across my network. Well, not anymore.
Whilst Plex has tried to justify this saying they need this to improve their service, I just don’t buy it. How can my media or playing habits improve their software? And what makes the proposed changes even worse it the lack of any controls to opt out of this data collection from my server. The limited controls they are proposing will be implemented at a user level, meaning that any of my friends and family who connect to my server would be sending Plex data about my server over which I have absolutely no control. Ok, I could ask them to apply the appropriate privacy settings, but why should I even need to? It’s my server and my content, but I don’t have the appropriate controls to manage it in the way I would like. I really should have seen this coming when Plex starting making it more and more difficult to use their software without being signed into their online Plex service. This again was sold to users on the basis of making things easier, which to a certain degree it does, but at the same time it removes control from the server owner and in some cases makes it completely inoperable where internet connectivity is unavailable to lost for a period of time. Plex eventually added some manual controls back into the server and some of the clients, but not across the board and I still have clients (Apple TV app and Plex Media Player are two I used) that cannot connect to my server if it isn’t logged into my Plex account, even when they are all connected to the same local area network. Even though Plex are saying that any data collected will be anonymised and could not be used to identify exactly what content is on my server or what is being played, it’s just not good enough and the path they are taking makes me think it’s only a matter of time before anything they want can be collected. I hope Plex eventually see sense with the policy and put the controls back into the server, but until they do, I won’t be using it. Certainly, within Europe, I suspect Plex may be breaching a number of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) which will become enforceable in 2018, so I’ll be watching from the sidelines to see how things pan out. I’ve also asked Plex to provide details of all the Information they hold about me, my server and the clients which connected to it. They promise to respond within 90 days, so I’ll see what I get back.
So where do I go from here? Having a media server running on my network had proved to be incredibly useful, and is used almost daily within the house. The most common use is viewing this media content on the TV in the living room using an Apple TV. Occasionally, it might be viewed on a mobile device (mainly iOS) around the house and even more infrequently outside my home when working away (usually a laptop). It also enabled me to share some of this content with family and friends, some of whom also use it regularly. Having spent the last month or so looking for a replacement, I think emby will fit the bill. It appears to do pretty much all that Plex does, although it doesn’t look quite as nice and is missing a few of the features I use, such as Smart Playlists. I’ve been a Lifetime Plexpass customer for the last 4+ years, and this provides access to some additional services such as a DVR for live TV and the ability to sync content to mobile devices (handy for keeping stuff on an iPad for long journeys). emby does this too but is also only available to users of their Premiere service, which is slightly cheaper than Plex, but still, means spending some money. I’d hate to make the same mistake twice, so might just be utilising the free server software for the short term.
I’m surprised how much this had concerned me over the last month or so, and I’ve been through all the classic stages of grief! At first, I couldn’t believe that Plex would be so stupid, along with many others who then vented their anger on the Plex Forum and Reddit. There have been lots of debate and bargaining about it too, including what seemed like a step back from their CEO, but in reality, didn’t address my fundamental concerns. I’ve genuinely felt quite sad about having to find a replacement for something I’ve enjoyed using so much for the past 6+ years, but I’ve finally reached the acceptance that Plex had no intentions to change their position in the short term so I also need to move on. Hopefully, emby will serve me just as well as Plex has, and who knows what Plex might do in the future. They’ve pretty much lost my trust for now, but maybe that will change over time. It will be interesting to see how many others jump ship, and how the Plex service evolves. I suspect they are trying to move away from their original service and monetise it in a completely different way, but only time will tell….